Environmental Analyst – Internship Musings

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Before my internship officially began, I had an incredible conversation with the Director of Development for Grace Klein, Natalie Spronk. We hit all the bases of what I wanted to get out of my internship, and she gave me some expectations of what they’d want me to help them with upon receiving their invitation to join them for the semester. In our conversation and per some specifics on my application, they were interested in developing their organization’s carbon footprint which once put in a formal document could be sent to grant fellowships in hopes of receiving funding that would be put towards the ministry. This money would in turn be invested into the organization’s community pursuits blessing even more struggling families in the Birmingham area. After Natalie had shared with me their vision, I felt prompted to join Grace Klein and get the ball rolling on this vision figuring out next steps. 

As well as doing the research for the carbon footprint, my internship experience has also included helping out around the office as well as helping out at the food drive location at Liberty Church Birmingham. Generally, I could be helping out in any number of ways. Whether it’s physically loading and unloading donations from donors’ and community partners’ vehicles, cataloguing donations into their database, packing boxes with frozen chicken to be picked up by a community partner, or praying for families who come weekly for the food drives, my experience is definitely well-rounded. 

Jenny, Natalie, and I are currently in the midst of talking with two wonderful organizations who specialize in developing carbon footprints. Green Places is a company based out of Raleigh, North Carolina that simplifies sustainability for businesses with a software platform that helps calculate carbon footprints, set reduction goals, purchase carbon offsets, and allows clients to easily report their progress. Green places uses an 80-point carbon assessment tracking method that collects data everywhere from companies’ gas, water, and electricity bills to the emissions generated from company vehicles. Green Places could potentially help Grace Klein with developing a carbon assessment as well as suggesting next steps for the organization to take to mitigate carbon emissions. 

Another company that we’ve been communicating with that provides a similar service is called Footprint based out of Houston, Texas. Footprint has created their own carbon assessment tool that companies and businesses can use to develop their own carbon footprint over time. The Footprint App is a daily self-reporting application that asks users what their daily fuel consumption is, what primary method of transportation was used that day, and how long of a commute was taken in terms of miles. The Footprint app also includes other metrics you wouldn’t ordinarily think is linked to a carbon footprint like how much meat is in an individual’s diet and whether the clothes that an individual wears are new or used. 

What I’m hoping to get out of this internship experience goes above what is expected from the environmental side of things. The footprint being the most important aspect to my internship will definitely make up most of the work I’ll be doing for Grace Klein, and with the right tools and resources I believe we can achieve outstanding results. But as far as the overall experience goes, I’m just excited to help out in whatever capacity I’m needed in. There aren’t many notable, highly successful, smaller nonprofit organizations in Birmingham, and that may just come with the territory. But I’m hoping to achieve things with the organization that will bring more community partners into their radar to help serve the underprivileged communities in Birmingham. 

Civic engagement is a value I hold very close to my core. Being able to extend yourself in any number of ways to help those around you who are in need is an important aspect of being human. Philanthropists, lawyers, teachers, and professors are just a few examples of people who have made it their duty to help others. These same people instill tools and skills like knowledge, wisdom, and leadership qualities into others who are usually younger and/or underprivileged. From an early age, I’ve learned a great deal of what it means to help those in need. Being reared by a mother who was born and raised in the third world country of Sri Lanka and a father who was born and raised in the rougher projects side of Gary, Indiana, my siblings and I learned at a young age to be grateful for the things we had knowing that there were families who were in way worse conditions and life circumstances. This internship has given me another lens to see into the lives of the underprivileged families of Birmingham and to hear some of their stories and struggles. 

Diving deeper into this aspect of my internship, I’ve been fortunate enough to engage with some of the families who come to the Liberty Church Birmingham food drive every Monday. One day, I got to talk with a lady, we’ll just call her “Jessica, “whose husband at the time had to undergo 30 rounds of chemotherapy. Jessica told me that because of this circumstance, she’s had to double up on work to provide for the both of them and their family. A couple of weeks passed and I saw her again in the food drive line and asked how things were going with her husband and their family. Elated, she expressed to me how she believed God was providing for their family and that her husband was holding up well with the intense rounds of treatment. I got to pray with her again and send her on her way with some boxes of food, and that was the end of our exchange. 

Food insecurity is a problem facing much of our nation and has only been exacerbated from the effects of Covid-19 and our somewhat stagnant economy. Many families that come through Grace Klein for food boxes are out of work and are actively seeking opportunities for work, and this is a trend seen across America in many other cities. I haven’t been able to find many articles linking unemployment and food insecurity, but what I have found is that since 2009, food insecurity in the United States has started to decline. This is great news in the grand picture, but there is still much work to be done to keep it declining. One sustainable practice that Grace Klein embodies rather well is food rescuing. This practice allows restaurants and supermarkets to donate food items that are toward the end of their shelf lives to Grace Klein so that it can be redistributed to families in need. All food that is donated goes through sorting, is categorized, and is then redistributed to the Liberty Baptist Church Food drive and other community partners. Food that has gone bad can still be put to use, however. Grace Klein partners with several farmers who come to collect produce that has gone bad to repurpose as compost or as feed for pigs. This added measure supports Grace Klein’s mission of eliminating food waste proving that alternative measures to mitigate food ending up in landfills can still be pursued. 

So far, my internship with Grace Klein has been more beneficial and worthwhile than I could have ever predicted. The people I get to work with are all amazing individuals in their own rights, and excel greatly in their jobs. Already, I’ve learned so many valuable aspects to how this organization runs, and am being challenged each day I go to work. The conversations I have with my supervisor help ground me and hold me accountable for the work they’ve entrusted me with. The in-person aspects of my internship truly fill my cup beyond having to meet the internship requirements for my major. All of these things I’ve described have elevated me to a higher appreciation for this organization as well as the work I hope to do once I graduate from BSC. 

So, how does all of this relate to you all? Well, I could say something like it’s biblical or that it’s Christ-like to help your neighbor who’s in need like the parable of the Good Samaritan. And these are great reasons and definitely should be the driving factor in helping those around us, but I also want to stress the importance of making good use of our time and investing in worthwhile activities and organizations. To tell you the truth, my internship primarily consists of work that regular Grace Klein volunteers do. We as college student have time for a lot of things throughout the week, some of us more than others, and I’d be willing to bet that a good percentage of us would spend that time scrolling through timelines or binging a show on Netflix. I enjoy these things just as much as the next guy, and I also recognize the importance in taking time for yourself, but at the same time I know that I could usually be doing something more worthwhile. If you have time and if you have capacity, please come and volunteer or intern at Grace Klein Community. It’s a vibrant community that does good, clean, and honest work. I’ve had many amazing interactions with so many people throughout this organization and being able to help others in this way has driven me to pursue something like this beyond school. 

Aside from the work I get to do for this organization, the community is special in so many ways. The Grace Klein Community is characterized by its integrity to stay true to their mission, their meticulous methods for rescuing food, and their humility in “being the hands and feet of Christ.” The community partners who walk into the office to either pick up or drop off donations have always left with smiles on their faces. I believe it’s not just the tangible goods they they leave with but that it’s also the impact made on them from the people who work at this amazing organization.